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D.C. United secures playoff spot with 3-1 victory over New York City FC

Oct 21, 2018; Washington, DC, USA; D.C. United forward Wayne Rooney (9) battles for a header with New York City defender Alexander Callens (6) during the first half at Audi Field. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON — D.C. United secured an MLS playoff spot with a 3-1 victory over New York City FC Sunday in front of an announced crowd of 20,249 at Audi Field.

“We will enjoy it tonight for sure,” coach Ben Olsen said. “We can exhale just for a second, for 24 hours. There hasn’t been much [time] for that over the last couple months.”

The familiar combination of forward Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta struck twice to open up scoring in the first half. In its more than three months of existence, the Rooney-Acosta connection has accounted for nine of United’s goals.

“Before Wayne [and] bolstering this roster, It was up to him. If he was playing at a high level then we were playing at a high level. If he wasn’t, we tended to lose those games,” Olsen said of Acosta. “Wayne has definitely taken a little pressure off him.”

Acosta pressured New York’s back line from the whistle and in the eighth minute took advantage of an open channel down the end line to goal. He dribbled through four NYCFC defenders before slotting a ball back for Rooney to finish at the top of the six-yard box.

“Lucho, today, was playing at a level that, early, they couldn’t deal with,” Olsen said. “The goal is going to get highlighted, but again he makes so many plays defensively. He is so tuned in with Wayne.”

Rooney returned the favor less than 20 minutes later. When three New York defenders swarmed Rooney at the top of the penalty box, the ball popped out to Acosta, who curled in his 10th goal of the season. 

“I don’t think I have to say anything about [the connection with Rooney],” Acosta said. “It shows itself on the field.”

Rooney topped off the scoring night for United, converting a penalty kick in the 74th minute. 

With Rooney (12), Acosta (10) and forward Darren Mattocks (10), United has three players in double digit goals for the first time since 1998. Acosta also grabs what in basketball circles is known as a double-double — double-digit goals and assists — for United for the first time in a decade. 

While the individual players racked up stats, the team collectively reached its longest unbeaten streak since 2007. United is unbeaten in the last nine games, and won the last five.

“The work that we have put in has paid off, but we are not done yet,” Paul Arriola said. “There is something to still play for in the final game. We have clinched, but I don’t think we are content yet where we stand.”

New York was able to get one back in the 78th minute when Yangel Herrera stripped Rooney of the ball. He laid a pass off to David Villa, who hit a low shot off the right post and into the goal, but the effort came too late for the visitors. 

With its postseason fate secured, United turns its focus to a potential home playoff game. If United get a win away at Chicago Fire, it clinches — at minimum — the fourth spot in the East and a playoff game at Audi Field. 

“I haven’t put a lot of thought into it, but on the surface, a home game is a big deal especially for a knockout game,” Olsen said. “That is all stuff I will ponder tonight over a quiet bourbon.”

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